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Commentary: Uber executive under investigation for use of controversial ‘God View’ ride tracking

WATCH: Not everyone thinks Uber is the answer to transportation woes and some customers are turning their backs over questions about the company’s privacy policy. Jennifer Tryon reports.

TORONTO – Uber’s privacy practices have been called into question following allegations that one of its top executives tracked a journalist’s location without her permission using an internal company tool called “God View.” Uber’s New York general manager Josh Mohrer is being investigated after Buzzfeed news published a story alleging Mohrer used Uber location data to track reporter Johana Bhuiyan’s location without her consent ahead of a scheduled interview.

According to Buzzfeed, Uber uses an internal tool called “God View” that shows the location of Uber vehicles and customers who have requested a car via the app. Buzzfeed alleges that Mohrer used this feature to track Bhuiyan’s location multiple times.

“Early this November, one of the reporters of this story, Johana Bhuiyan, arrived to Uber’s New York headquarters in Long Island City for an interview with Josh Mohrer. Stepping out of her vehicle — an Uber car — she found Mohrer waiting for her. ‘There you are,’ he said, holding his iPhone and gesturing at it. ‘I was tracking you’,” read the Buzzfeed article.

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“Two months earlier, to make a point about questions Bhuiyan had asked about ride-share competitor Lyft, Mohrer had emailed her logs of some of her Uber trips. He had not asked for permission to access her data.”

READ MORE: Why taxi drivers are so upset about car-for-hire apps

In response to the article, Uber published details of its privacy policy – which, until now, were not publicly disclosed. “Uber has a strict policy prohibiting all employees at every level from accessing a rider or driver’s data. The only exception to this policy is for a limited set of legitimate business purposes,” read a statement posted to Uber’s blog. “Our policy has been communicated to all employees and contractors.”

According to Uber’s statement, rider data should only be accessed to help facilitate payment for drivers, to monitor accounts for fraudulent activity and for troubleshooting purposes. The car service app added any violation of the terms could result in “disciplinary action, including the possibility of termination and legal action.”

The report comes on the heels of multiple controversies for Uber.

This week another senior executive came under fire for suggesting that the company hire a team of opposition researchers to look into journalists who criticise the car service, according to a second Buzzfeed report. According to the report, Uber’s senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, made the remarks during a conversation he thought was off the record and later apologized, adding the comments didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.

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Meanwhile in Canada, the city of Toronto filed a notice of application with the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario Tuesday seeking a court injunction against Uber Canada, stating the car service has been operating illegally in Toronto, without a $300 taxi brokerage license, since September, 2012. As a result the company faces 36 bylaw infractions.

READ MORE: Toronto attempting to shut down Uber service within city limits

City officials said the company’s unregulated status puts people in harm’s way due to unregulated fares resulting in alleged price gouging, inadequate insurance, increased safety risk to the drivers due to lack of training.

Uber has been accused of tracking user’s locations inappropriately before.

In 2009, Uber customer Peter Sims said he was travelling in an Uber car in Manhattan when he received a text message from an acquaintance recounting his every move. Turns out, that person was at an Uber launch party in Chicago where Sims’ location was being shown on a screen via “God View.”

“I’ve given up on being able to trust the company, and am no longer using the service. It’s a bit of a bummer, to be honest, and I hope that the board steps up and cleans up the way the company approaches doing business,” he wrote in a blog post published in 2011.

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“The irony is that Uber not only can be a great company without resorting to the hyper-competitive tactics that have gotten it into trouble, it risks a massive downfall if consumers lose trust due to less than ethical tactics.”

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